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City Year Founding Story: The Long Walk

Art by Shirley Hersey

During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

— Nelson Mandela, April 20, 1964, Rivonia Trial

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

— Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, published 1994

Nelson Mandela sacrificed 27 years in jail for his country, a country founded upon his dedication and leadership. He is the very embodiment of what it means to commit oneself to a larger movement, and to make great personal sacrifices for that commitment. Indeed, he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his ideal of a non-racial democracy, and he spoke forthrightly about his convictions at the Rivonia trial, where he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in upholding the rights of all South Africans. His metaphor, that his personal path and that of his country is a “Long Walk,” underscores an important point: while there are often successes to look back upon with pride, and rest is important and understandable, ultimate success is often further away than one thinks.

Great leaders never stop feeling a deep sense of responsibility, not only for achieving success but also for making that success work in the long run. For Nelson Mandela, the goals of “freedom” for himself and for his country have been achieved. But the “long walk” continues because freedom brought with it the “responsibilities” of democracy and selfgovernment for a new nation, as well as the difficult task of reconciliation.

About the Photographer: Shirley Hersey is a retired registered nurse who worked for Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. She has always been interested in drawing and painting and loves working at home alongside her husband, Fran, who is also an artist. Neither Shirley, nor her husband have formal training as artists, but art has always been central to their lives. The Herseys now live in Cape Cod, MA where they are members of the Falmouth, MA Artist Guild.